Zarqa Nawaz on finding the funny in Islam


Zarqa Nawaz, creator of CBC sitcom Little Mosque on the Prairie. (Fabiola Carletti/CBC)


Journalist and documentarian Zarqa Nawaz has spent her career trying to bridge cultural gaps -- a passion born of personal experience. She was born in England but grew up in Brampton, Ont., and often felt like an outsider. Her silliness and irreverence haven't always gone over well in Muslim communities, and her religious beliefs haven't always been well-received in secular circles.

Now Nawaz, who is best known as the creator of the CBC sitcom Little Mosque on the Prairie, has released an autobiographical collection of stories: Laughing All the Way to the Mosque. Her book, like her show, tries to speak to two audiences, making Islam understandable for non-Muslims, while honestly representing the Muslim experience for the broader population. She stopped by CBC Radio's Q on July 2 to discuss her life, work and the new book. You can listen to her conversation with Jian Ghomeshi below:

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Nawaz wanted to write a "memoir of sorts" to showcase how diverse the Muslim experience can be. This is also why she created the television show Little Mosque on the Prairie. "Whenever you read a Muslim woman's memoir, she's either been shot by the Taliban or kidnapped by Somali pirates. This is probably the first Muslim woman's memoir about growing up in the suburbs," she said. "My slogan is, 'I am boring.'"

She may be boring and she may be funny, but that doesn't mean her work isn't important. Early on in her career, Nawaz realized how powerful comedy could be. "Comedy opens up people's mind to issues that they might not normally be able to open up to," she said. "It's almost a coping strategy. It's a way for me to deal with what's happening in the world and be able to talk to people without getting so deadly serious about it."